Chapter 22: Missionary Burlesque

            

Elder Eby drove me back to the mission office in his big tan sedan. He was a thin, white-haired old man in a polyester suit, and he seemed to wear a permanent expression of bemused perplexity. In fact, he resembled nothing so much as a slightly shorter version of Lloyd Bridges. We made small talk during the ride. Eby seemed somewhat unsure of how to treat me—a missionary who had just spent the night in jail.

Back at the deserted office, I was quite happy to let Elder Eby go back to his puttering around—excuse me, I meant his duties—while I retired to the meeting room, where I tried to relax by noodling around on the same piano I'd been playing when Elder Hardy tried to talk me into staying on my mission the previous December.

I was playing an original number of mine called "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" (named after the Samuel R. Delany novel) when Elders Fearing and Hardy—the apes—wandered into the meeting room. They were the first ones to return from the leadership conference. They waited until I finished my song—Elder Fearing was a fan of that particular number—and then after assuring themselves that I was all right and clapping me on the back and hugging me and all that guy stuff, they asked me what jail had been like.

"Pretty weird," I said. "Pretty scary. Lots of really scary people."

"Did you teach 'em any D's?" they asked. (See what I meant back in Chapter 15?)

"Almost," I said. "I was just starting the first D with this guy in my holding cell when the guards came and moved him to another cell."

"Bummer," they said, giving me high-fives nonetheless. ("A" for effort. Missionaries are very supportive of each other's efforts. Helps to tighten those invisible community chains—um, I mean bonds.)

"The worst thing about jail, though, is not knowing what time it is," I said.

"Didn't you have your watch?" asked Elder Fearing.

"No, they took it from me," I said.

"No way."

"Yes way. They took my tie and my belt and my name tag, too."

"You're kidding," said Elder Hardy. "Did you get fingerprinted and stuff?"

"Sure," I said, beginning to revel in their obvious amazement and admiration. "They took my fingerprints and my mug shots, and they strip-searched me, too."

"No way!" said Fearing. "You mean they . . ."

I nodded, and when the apes asked for clarification, I proceeded to pantomime the entire strip-search process—from running my hands through the hair on my head right down to . . . well, having the cop yell at me and slapping my hands on my ass and spreading my cheeks.

Fearing and Hardy thought this was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen. They didn't stop laughing for what seemed like hours.

After sobering up, Elder Fearing said, "You know, Elder Shunn, everyone's been awfully worried about you. In fact, Sister Tuttle had planned a great big breakfast for us at the leadership conference this morning, but everyone voted to skip it and fast for you instead, so you could get out of jail. A lot of people here love you."

I was touched. Fasting is a serious business, not to be undertaken lightly. The fact that a few dozen ravenous young missionaries had voted to fast for my deliverance from bondage meant a whole lot to me. A whole lot.

Of course, it probably had nothing to do with my release, but I was still touched.

Elder Snow showed up before much longer, partnered with Runaway McKay. I was very happy to see him, and he to see me. We exchanged manly hugs, and Snow asked me the requisite question: "Teach any D's in jail?"

Before I could answer, though, the apes, barely able to conceal their excitement, said, "Shunn, you've got to do the strip-search thing for McKay and Snow!"

After a certain amount of embarrassed resistance, I caved in to pressure. I did the pantomime again, narrating it in as entertaining a manner as possible. More elders filtered in as I was doing it, returning from the leadership conference, and before long I had a huge audience, all hooting and laughing and applauding with great relish.

Thinking back on things, it seems almost as if I did nothing all that afternoon but repeatedly run through the strip-search routine. It was a big hit.

Now, you must understand that missionaries are great appreciaters of anything that smacks of good, clean vulgarity. I'm not talking about downright raunchiness—well, maybe a bit of that—or about anything pornographic. But you have to remember that elders are, for the most part, still boys, living in an artificially "pure" environment. Anything the slightest bit blue (or brown, to be brutally frank) provides a welcome bit of relief from the pressure of their white-bread, button-down, Book-of-Mormon-thumping image. A simple fart, timed correctly, has the power to reduce any room full of missionaries to masses of jelly quivering in disabling paroxysms of laughter. Thus the perennial popularity of my strip-search pantomime.

But more on that later. Much later.

Having learned that I was out of jail and in one piece, Sisters Roper, Steed, and Herzog hurried over to the mission office to greet me. As soon as they saw me, they started to cry—so much in unison that it seemed their waterworks must have been tied together with invisible piping. They would have hugged me nearly to death—had hugging me actually been permitted.

"Oh, Elder Shunn," said Doper—er, Roper. "We're so sorry. This is all our fault. If only we hadn't . . ."

"No, no, sisters," I said, trying to quiet them. "It wasn't your fault at all. You were just trying to help. The bomb threat was all my idea."

Of course, I did blame them for at least part of my predicament, but I wasn't about to say so. After all, I had something of a crush on Sister Roper, and something more than a crush on Sister Herzog. No fool I. (Yeah, right.)

After they had calmed down and inquired about whether or not I had taught any D's in jail, someone spilled the beans about the strip search. I was forced to go through the whole thing again for the benefit of the sisters. Very self-consciously, I might add. With the guys, it was one thing, but with the sisters . . . (Ah, well. A steppingstone along the path of enlightenment in chauvinistic matters.)

Of course, it was right then, at the conclusion of the pantomime, that President Tuttle showed up and summoned me to his office.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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